The Whisperer in Darkness - Inspiration


In "The Whisperer in Darkness", narrator Albert Wilmarth initially dismisses those who believe that nonhuman creatures inhabit the Vermont hills as "merely romanticists who insisted on trying to transfer to real life the fantastic lore of lurking 'little people' made popular by the magnificent horror-fiction of Arthur Machen." This line, Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price argues, is an acknowledgement of the debt Lovecraft's story owes to Machen's "The Novel of the Black Seal" (1895).

"I would go so far as to make essentially a rewriting, a new version of Machen's," Price writes.

In both cases we have a professor, an antiquarian, following his avocational interests in what most would dismiss as superstition on a dangerous expedition into a strange region of ominous domed hills. He is lured by a curiously engraved black stone which seems a survival from an elder prehuman race now hidden in those mysterious hills.... Lovecraft splits the role of Machen's Professor Gregg between Professor Wilmarth and the scholarly recluse Akeley.... t is Akeley, not the Professor, who eventually disappears into the clutches of the elder race. Wilmarth remains behind to tell the tale, like Machen's Miss Lally.

Price points out parallel passages in the two stories: Where Machen asks, "What if the obscure and horrible race of the hills still survived...?" Lovecraft hints at "a hidden race of monstrous beings which lurked somewhere among the remoter hills". Where Machen mentions "strange shapes gathering fast amidst the reeds, beside the wash in the river," Lovecraft tells of "certain odd stories of things found floating in some of the swollen rivers." Price suggests that Machen's reference to accounts of people "who vanished strangely from the earth" prompted Lovecraft to imagine people being literally spirited off the Earth.

As noted by critics like Price and Lin Carter, "The Whisperer in Darkness" also makes reference to names and concepts in Robert W. Chambers's The King in Yellow, some of which had previously been borrowed from Ambrose Bierce. In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft wrote that "Chambers must have been impressed with 'An Inhabitant of Carcosa' & 'Haita the Shepherd', which were first published during his youth. But he even improves on Bierce in creating a shuddering background of horror--a vague, disquieting memory which makes one reluctant to use the faculty of recollection too vigorously."

The idea of keeping a human brain alive in a jar (with mechanical attachments allowing sight, hearing, and speech) to enable travel in areas inhospitable to the body might have been inspired by the book The World, the Flesh, and the Devil by J.D. Bernal, which describes and suggests the feasibility of a similar device. The book was published in 1929, just a year before Lovecraft wrote his story.

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